After having 11 picks in last year’s draft, this year the Raiders have only five, with no picks in the second, third, and fifth rounds. This is not as much of a problem as it would first appear, Oakland having addressed many of their needs in free agency.
Having the fourth overall pick this year is an intriguing position to be in, and whoever goes in the top three, Lane Kiffin is guaranteed of having an impact player. But should the Raiders draft for need? Or simply take the best player available?
Without Miami, St. Louis, or Atlanta needing a running back, Darren McFadden will likely fall at least to number four. Although he is clearly an outstanding player, the Raiders appear well stocked at running back. Justin Fargas is coming off a big season, and Michael Bush has great potential. Between them they should be more than capable of getting the job done.
Furthermore, Oakland already proved that it could move the ball on the ground well last year, and those who know the zone blocking scheme also know you don’t need a superstar to make it work.
So despite the excitement that McFadden would create, for the sake of their future success, Oakland must take care of other areas first.
The most glaring of these is the defensive line. Derrick Burgess is solid, and great things are expected of Tommy Kelly, but the truth is that last year, even with these two, the Raiders couldn’t stop the run. They have good young linebackers in Kirk Morrison, and possibly the best secondary in the league, but unless the defensive line can step up its performance that will mean little.
Chris Long and Glenn Dorsey are clearly the top players in this year’s class, and if either are available it would instantly upgrade the Raider defense. With the history and bloodlines, there is no way Al Davis will pass on Chris Long if he is still there.
Both the Rams and the Dolphins have shown strong interest in Vernon Gholston, and he could even be the first defensive lineman off the board, but I don’t have him in the same class as the other two. Despite his impressive workout numbers, Long and Dorsey are simply better football players.
That means if Dorsey and Long are gone, Oakland could trade down a few places, get an extra pick, and still get the next best player to fit their needs, which is Sedrick Ellis. Ellis is a quality run stuffer who could provide help where it is needed most. Al Davis doesn’t usually trade down, but a shortage of picks might tempt him here.
Other areas of need are the interior of the offensive line and wide receiver. Offensive linemen for zone blocking systems are often taken late on the second day of the draft, and don’t be surprised if Oakland go this way in rounds six or seven.
Steve Justice from Wake Forest has the agility to fit into this system and would be available late. Mike Pollak from Arizona State might also slip to early on the second day and would be a good fit also.
At receiver, Javon Walker still has injury concerns, and Drew Carter is only on a one year contract, which leaves just Ronald Curry to depend on for the future.
I know a number of fans have lobbied for DeSean Jackson from Cal, but he would never justify the number four pick and will be gone by day two. He is also very undersized and has a questionable work ethic.
Dexter Jackson from Appalachian State could slip far enough for Al Davis to pull a deal to get him. His blazing speed and small school background have all the hallmarks of a Davis player. His return ability would be valuable too after Chris Carr departed for the Titans.
However it works out, Oakland must take care of the both lines and start to win battles in the trenches. That really has been missing the last few years, with only Burgess standing out.
All of their previous great teams have produced great line play, and they have to start investing there if they want a return to glory.
Remember 1976 with Upshaw, Shell, and Jon Matuszak? What about that defensive line in the 80’s with Howie Long, Greg Townsend, Lyle Azlado, and Sean Jones? In 2000 with Lincoln Kennedy, Steve Wisniewski, and Barret Robbins? You succeed in the NFL by winning the battles on the line before anything else.
The Giants won it all this year on the back of a great defensive line, and if the Raiders want to turn it around, this is where they have to start.